Living With Limitations: Portrait of a Weed Pile

Portrait of a Weed Pile

Name your Poison

Weeds received almost as much press as the perennials they compete with in gardens. Your university extension office issues white papers after research on every aspect of weed identification, its effects upon agriculture and horticulture, and how to eradicate. Billions are spent each year on chemicals to combat their existence. Then there is the time element of spraying fields and the environmental impact along with equipment costs. The manual labor of crawling about in gardens with your favorite implement popping them out by the roots most often is the least favorite approach to weeding.

Branched Bugbane Actaea

Name Calling

I always enjoy the attitudes expressed by garden writers in gardening magazines and books concerning weeds. A few take the technical approach all very direct and informative, while most authors have a more philosophical viewpoint. Sometimes lines of print get stuck in my head as I read. Such as “a weed is a plant without a publicity agent”. Another that I hear often is “a weed is a plant out of desired place”. My final favorite is “the more perennials you have in the garden, the less room for weeds”. That one has a ring of truth, but also a touch of nursery promotion. Personally, I tend to wax a bit philosophically on weeds.

Exercise Program

I am aware of all the chemical answers to my weed problems. However, my preference is to crawl about on hand and knees and physically remove unwanted plants. I have my dovetail weeder and time. Time to myself in my garden with head down where I cannot see, nor hear the rest of the world, as my cell phone is never with me in my place of peace.  Weeding is an active meditation. All the repetitive motions of removal, the devotional actions of kneeling, then standing to carry debris away, returning to kneeling. That is the physical aspect of weeding.

The physical side of weeding is also a part of my exercise program along with walking up and down my hillside garden, carrying the debris away. I have a problem making myself ‘work out’ but no compulsion against weeding activities.

Behind Bellybuttons

A spiritual side exists in removing weeds. A removal of weedy thoughts as well the undesired to simply be in the garden. I also find a cleansing, a sense of renewal, the polishing of the space where perennials remain so they can look and be their best.

I may look a bit grubby leaving the garden, and these old bones are sore and tired, but that is only the outward and the physical. Behind my bellybutton I am a bit lighter and brighter from removing a few personal weeds.

Having Said That

The bellybutton approach does not always work. Taking my age, my medical condition into account, there are times when I do not have the energy nor the will to give what it takes to physically weed. Also, some conditions will not work with simple weeding. Yes, I now use the occasional spray to kill off the most noxious and persistent. There is the world as I would like for it to be and then there is the world of reality.

If you garden with limitations, You are in my book. Order your copy now.

Living With Limitations: Moonlight Sonata

Kousa dogwood Snow Towers bloom

Sitting on my hillside deck beneath cedar trees, looking across and down, is among my favorite garden views. The vignette is framed by the open branches of a white variegated Redbud tree. A path climbs the hill leading to the deck and is intersected by a path across the hillside. At that junction is a raised bed which is the dominant portion of the view.

The deck is a perfect place to sit quietly with a glass of chilled wine, listen to music, and watch the sun set behind the garden. One evening, while enjoying the better things in life, one of my favorite pieces of music by a favorite composer kept me still. The music was Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonata number 2, or as commonly known, Moonlight Sonata.

The word moonlight merged in my mind with the romance of a white blooming garden. I had a white and green frame for the picture to be created, so why not complete the concept? I do not normally sit on the deck after sundown, but a white garden with emphasis on variegated foliage can be just as lovely in daylight, I thought.


In the thirty-plus years the bed has existed I have had several designs over the years, none of which ever satisfied me, came unraveled over time, or survived only to be torn out and restarted. This time, I told myself, it will be different. I will design a white garden; a garden that will survive the test of time and my sense of satisfaction. And, with one exception, I already have the plants scattered throughout my garden.

White Flowers

The raised bed is approximately six foot wide by twelve long, primarily viewed while walking up the path into the garden, and of course, viewed from above when seated on the deck. My center piece, placed off-center, is a Kousa dogwood ‘Snow Tower” (Cornus kousa Snow Tower). I have chosen a small tree that matures twelve feet tall and four feet wide to stay within scale of the raised bed and area it will have to fill out over time. Its growth habit is upright and tight, leaves rich green, large crisp-white flowers in abundance. It performs best in plenty of light, but appreciates some shade toward afternoon.

The Two Brunnera with Fire Pink


Forming a drift I have two varieties of Brunnera, both of which, are my favorites to date. I have 3 of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass”. The individual leaves are large, heart-shaped, tending to cup . Leaves are rimmed with a dark green border, a central green vein, all on solid silver background. Foliage forms a mound about twelve to fifteen inches tall, blooming early in the season in open sprays of blue with a white eye just above the silver and green.

Heart-Leaf Brunnera m. “Emerald Mist’ has large heart-shaped leaves have lacy collars of silver, then a light dusting of silver overall. There is brilliant green in the center of each leaf forming an intricate pattern. The green and silver is in perfect balance on leaves reaching twelve to fifteen inches in height with same spread over time as “Looking Glass”. I have transplanted two of this variety. Three of the Looking Glass, two of Emerald Mist, then a single Looking Glass”. It has the same forget-me-not blue and white flowers.


Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyrium nipponicum var.) have sprung up throughout my garden so I have a good selection of choose from. At this time I have chosen two nice clumps to play off the Brunnera, and I may chose a third later on if the rhythm calls for it. The fronds reach fifteen to eighteen inches in height, quickly forming good sized clumps. The green of each frond tends to be pale, but most of the frond is a whitish-silver which creates quite a show in a dark corner.

Polygonatum odoraatum Byakko Photo Edelweiss

Upright Architecture

With mounding and airy forms in place it is time to change gears and transplant another of my favorite plants for the shade garden.  ‘White Tiger’ Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Byakko’) was a gift to me, and I have two starts to use for this project. The variegation on this cultivar is different from all others I have seen. Cream-white irregular blotches begin where the leaf attaches to the stem and spreads outward, often covering well over half the green leaf. Leaves are alternate on some-what zig-zag red stems. No two leaves are the same. Height is from fifteen to thirty inches depending upon who you read. The starts I received were sixteen and eighteen inches, so I am going to guess, when well-grown, two feet.

You could also try the most often used P. variegate with small white accents on each egg-shaped leaf, or go for the gusto with a real kick of white using P. ‘Double Stuff’.

I am still considering a spray of Hakonechloa macra White Variegated to use in the corner of the bed so it can arch and soften the stones defining the path junction.

If you are experiencing limitations in the garden, You are in my latest book: A Gardener Grounded 


Living With Limitations: Modern Magic

Hymenocallis occidentalis: Spider Lily

Occasionally when I come out of the garden and return to the real world I experience real magic. Because it can be explained in some cases people call it science. In other cases it can be woo-woo spiritual. Then there are the times when magic is like pornography; you know it when you see it. Difficult to describe to another, but there it is right in front of both small gods and man.


Those of you who read my meanderings know I have strictly quarantined myself from the COVID-19 virus. My meds come through the mail, my wife does all shopping. I simply stay put in my own little world. That does create problems in the real world. After all, man cannot life upon bread alone, he must have peanut butter (Biblical quote) sandwiches when he spends the day at garden centers.


Following a recent update on my computer I turned it on the next morning to check my email and nope! Software would not load. I spent a day fishing around trying to get access to my email with no avail. If I had enough hair remaining I would have pulled it out. Also wanting to do email and having no access creates one hell of an itch that cannot be scratched. Finally I admitted defeat and went searching for a local computer tech.

Tech Magic

Some techs wanted me to drop off my computer since they could not come here. That was not working for me. Then I found an up to date tech who actually accepted a text and responded before I could seriously pace the floor once more. We sat up an appointment for the same day! He would not come here and I did not have to go there. He used remote magic.

Magic Wand

I have had the service used on my computer before, nothing really new, but I suppose my sense of isolation enhanced the appreciation for this service. My Computer Guy called me back and we talked on the phone while he connected to my computer remotely. I set back and chatted, described problems and

watched the curser move about the screen. While he worked on my email problem he went on to clean up and speed up my old computer, getting rid of small nuisances I had intended to tackle one day. I had an intelligent ghost in my machine. One that waved magic wands.

To shorten the story it has been sometime since I was that pleased with another’s service. Nothing teaches appreciation like missing what you took for granted.

My gift to you this week is his contact information. He, Kevin Clark, My Computer Guy, is on Facebook. 812 572-9820 Not an advertisement, a recommendation.


Gardening With Limitations? You are in my book; A Gardener Grounded

Living With Limitations: The Bench

Antique Garden Bench

Gardeners and their benches often become the butt of jokes. How we gardeners purchase and locate benches in our gardens, but never sit on them. We usually get lost on the way to taking a seat while stopping to pull weeds. I remember one garden I visited that had some form of a bench seemingly at every path curve, often a very expensive brand name in mahogany. Did he ever use one? No, no time.

This topic came up again in my mind when I paused from digging to take a break from our hot humid weather.  I have a very nice bench; one with history attached. Originally from a park, it belonged to my wife’s grandmother. A fine bench of metal frame and wood slats, certainly older than I which should categorize it as an antique (while I almost qualify for American primitive).

Lilium Lankon

Taking a Break

I was amending the soil, removing some clumps of clay, preparing an area about four feet by four feet to receive Goats Beard and Lilium lankon. About half way through mixing the soil, I realized it was time to stop and catch my breath; literally. The bench was a short walk and remained in the shade so I sought a sit-down session. I was reluctant to sit on the bench once I took a good look at it. Both metal and wood were covered by likens of gray touches of moss green. They looked so artistically arranged I hesitated to disturb them by sitting. Which illustrates the last time I seriously considered sitting on my bench.

Necessity demanded that I sit and that I did. Even while exhausted I spied weeds in the bed before me and was sorely tempted to get up and go pull that pesky plant. But this time I did not. I sat there and recovered from the heat and exhaustion so I could continue my project. Tomorrow I will pull that weed, I told myself. You know how gardeners think. They have more tomorrows than could fit on any calendar every published.


Age and COPD have been two of the best teachers I have ever had in teaching me to slow down, take breaks, and become aware of caring for myself. Both can be very insistent. Turns out breaks take patience. With a small measure of patience I find I can relax and let that weed go for one more day. Or two; perhaps three. Far better to be patient than to become one.

What Was Lost, Has Been Found

While remaining still Mrs. Bluebird came out, took a drink in the birdbath, then sat on the roof of her home. Digging the toe of my shoe in mulch like a fidgety youngin’ at church I saw a roly-poly bug take offense by rolling up in defense. While watching shade beneath a large leaved plant that was forming seed, I came eye to eye with a toad. Perhaps he saw the roly-poly. All kinds of life going on about me if only I could sit still so I could see them. Hard to read small roadside signs while doing sixty miles an hour.

Getting back up to return to my project I stood and stretched looking across the garden and saw my weeding knife handle sticking up. The one I lost last month.

Could be there are all kinds of rewards for learning a touch of patience so I can sit on that vacant bench.

Gardening With Limitations? You are in my Book: A Gardener Grounded

Living With Limitations: Two Companions

Arisaema fargessi

My two companions and I have reached a decision. My number one companion Age, along with Mr. Limitations and I, agree there is no way to give all of my garden the attention it needs to survive, much less thrive.

Yes, I know I have made this decision before. It was only two years ago that I sold one half of my garden to Yew Dell Botanical Garden where my plants would have a good home. They are, in fact, still making trips, digging in their section.

Spigelia marilandica


There is an additional push occurring due to aging of the garden. Trees transplanted thirty years ago are dying off. I have lost, or am losing three dogwoods. An Amelanchier, or Shadbush, has only a few branches with leaves, a mature pine is now woodpecker’s breakfast nook and my favorite Redbud Rising Sun split down the middle in a rain storm. Some of the shrubs could not tolerate the sudden shift to sun and are now gone.  All to say remaining shade perennials are dying off from being newly exposed. All within one section of the garden.


To save my sanity I have decided to name this area of death and dying a “sign”. The sign is a convergence of circumstance; this part of the garden has changed, I have grown too slow and lacking in stamina, my health prevents enough manual labor to react to the changes. I now find myself down to about one and one half hours of work in the mornings, perhaps two hours on a very good day. All with frequent breaks and rest on a bag of compost.

My wallet cannot afford to replant the area. Besides I no longer have that kind of time and my collection of shade perennials would not survive the wait for shade.

Reductions in Order

It is time now to take the hint and let go of this area of the garden reducing the overall size so that perhaps, this time, I will not have to further reduce the size of my soul.

Some perennials I can and will transplant where shade remains in my garden. Especially the ones near and dear to my heart and wallet.

The Candy Jack

For Sale

Others are now for sal,e such as mature stands of Arisaema fargessi (in seed) that can be divided, along with other species such as A. candidissimum, A. dracontium (in seed) and A. triphyllum (some in seed). Spigelia marilandica, or Pink Root, has thrived and there are several mature clumps. Perhaps some trilliums if I can locate them. Oh, and I should not forget my collection of Solomon’s seal from around the world as well as the natives. Among these is the giant Solomon’s seal that reaches nine to twelve feet tall. There are some lilies, other goodies too numerous to name.

I have the spade and containers, you bring your wallet (cash only), wear a mask and practice distancing. By appointment only and, sorry but, I do not ship. Contact me at:

Living With Limitations: Focal Point

Bench that became a sculpture

Mother Muse

There are times when I feel like I am being guided by unseen forces. To be more specific, I feel like I am being pushed along by Mother Muse, her large hand on my backside. I have this project form in my mind and it will not go away as long as she keeps patting me on the behind. This time it was to construct the largest focal point I have built to date.

All the materials were already here either in the garden or on the property; a plant here, a plant there, an unused container, that log we stumbled over for years. A word from my wife, a new way to see the old, and away Mother Muse and I went.

The bench that became a sculpture

The story

A friend saved a cedar log that fell across a driveway during a storm. He topped the log of branches and then sliced the log long ways, added hinges and created a bench. He gifted the bench to me and I was always going to have legs put on the bench, then get help moving it into the garden. One day my wife again looked at it and asked when, and if, I was ever going to moving it into the garden. I made my indistinct mumbling excuses and she remarked “why not just put it in the garden vertically and call it a sculpture?” She had unleashed Mother Muse upon me.

A tree died in the garden opening a perfect place to create a focal point using the cedar “sculpture.” I cut and removed the old tree, amended and worked the soil getting a new bed ready. It took two men, but the log was moved to the garden and I was ready to begin.

A foundation was created with a stepping stone, the log raised and settled on the stone with the halves opened and locked into place. Another stepping stone was placed on the base forming a shelf for a container. The location of the new bed was in the curve of a wet weather stream bed where I constructed a stone retaining wall.

Wood Sprite, Log Resident

Wood Sprite

Once the log was held open a wood sprite living within was exposed to the light of day and could no longer remain hidden. I will admit that, while it did take some convincing, the wood sprite agreed to remain on display becoming a part of my focal point.

Wood Sprites tend to be on narcissistic side and this one was no different. Once I realized and acted upon that realization, all I had to do was convince him of how many gardeners would walk by and admire him and his log.


The eastern side of the log is wooded hillside and gets little sun.  Only a narrow strip between the stone wall and foundation for the log provides room for two Arborvitae ferns (Selaginella braunii).

Coming around the upright log and following the ferns is a clump of Hakone grass (Hakonechloa m. Solar Flare). I had plenty of Hakone All Gold which is a favorite, but wanted to try the Solar Flare for the mahogany over gold coloring in the fall.

Aconitum, Monkshood seedling in garden

Following the Solar Flare mound is a stand of upright Monks Hood eventually reaching almost the height of the log. I had transplanted several seedlings from Barkers Variety scattered about in the garden that reliably provided late blooms of a rich blue.

The stand of Monks Hook was followed by another mound of gold Hakone grass. Now the front of the log and there is a mahogany colored square container in with a Praying Hands hosta brushing the chin of Wood Sprite.

Heuchera Red Lightening continues the gold color but adds a punch of red veins as it meets a dwarf hosta drift of Feather Boa, then more blue bloom is added with a drift of dwarf arching form of Monks Hood.

Gene’s book now available on

I am truly enjoying this project and looking forward to seeing it mature.

*Due to heat some plants have not yet been transplanted.

If you garden with limitations You are in my latest book.